DogSchmidt2.jpg (29527 bytes)Gary Schmidt, with his two Chows, sits Friday in front of an antique fire engine. Schmidt says the county is trying to force him to get rid of it, and a second fire engine can be seen behind and to the right of this one. He lost the home that her bought for his fiancee, Mary Bartell, in the fire of 2004, and at least the rear fire engine was there at that time. (MARILYN NEWTON / RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL)

Man fights to keep antique fire engines

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Susan Voyles (SVOYLES@RGJ.COM)

Gary Schmidt, who successfully fought Washoe County to keep historic artifacts outside his Reindeer Lodge on Mount Rose Highway, is now fighting to keep two antique fire trucks on his girlfriend's property in Steamboat.

Washoe County has issued several notices of violations since late 2004 about the fire trucks, which are considered junk cars. Schmidt has appealed to the county board of adjustment, staving off a misdemeanor citation. His case will be heard March 2.

Schmidt, who has sued the county for everything from not allowing him to lead the pledge of allegiance as a tax appeal board member to obtaining public records and copying them for free, said he is prepared to fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This is more than abuse of law and harassment of me," said Schmidt, who criticizes county government at almost every meeting.

He said that when his house co owned with Mary Bartell his fiancee burned Aug. 26, 2004 in the Andrew Lane Fire, deputies blocked the road and refused to let him through. He said he could have used the 200 buckets he had stored, some with sand and some to be filled with water, to fight it. One of his three dogs died in the house.

"Those fire trucks were saved. Those things are now monuments," he said, fighting back tears. "They are not going off my property."

After repeatedly telling his story to the county commission, it asked for a hearing to discuss whether residents should be blocked from their homes in a fire. That hearing hasn't happened. Fire officials have said residents are kept away from fast-moving wildfires for their own safety.

Eight years before the fire, Schmidt said he began creating a desert garden museum to display covered wagons, buggies, iron horses, benches and various rusted equipment on part of his eight-acre parcel.

Only the fire trucks are against county code, which prohibits storing junk cars.

County planning manager Bob Webb said the trucks must either be hidden behind a fence and not seen from a public road or made operable so an antique license plate can obtained.

Schmidt said he doesn't want the expense of licensing and insuring the vehicles. He said he wants to display them with the rest of his garden treasures on the Neilson Road property which he bought for his fiancee. One is a 1923 Kiesel ladder truck purchased from the former Harrah's Automobile Collection and the other is a late 1930s International pumper purchased 1½ years ago.

When he had a house, Schmidt said he used to sit next to the Kiesel and have his morning coffee with is fiancee Mary.

Schmidt said his museum park is no different than the one the county maintains at Rancho San Rafael or Bartley regional parks.

"Only mine is nicer than them," he said.

Webb said the county responds only when it gets complaints and the identity of those filing the complaints is protected under county code. He said the county received several complaints about the garden after the fire and last fall.

Neighbor David Thompson said he had no problem with the desert garden.

"Everybody gets in a little snoot and goes to complain to the government," Thompson said. "Frankly, I'd like to see government collapse and fail. We don't need it."